MISSION Australia has confirmed the Bega Women’s Refuge is temporarily closed, and insists any women seeking assistance are being helped through other arrangements.
The organisation was given management of the refuge after winning a NSW Government tender to provide homelessness services in the Bega Valley.
The previous manager was domestic violence specialist South East Women’s and Children’s Services (SEWACS).
Although Member for Bega Andrew Constance stepped in and promised additional funding for the refuge following the tender outcome, its doors are still closed.
“Since the previous provider of the refuge chose to wind down the service ahead of the transition period and not accept new clients, the building itself is not currently in operation,” Mission Australia’s regional leader Cheryl O’Donnell said.
“Since Mission Australia was asked to take on this service we have responded quickly to get operations underway with the aim of as smooth a transition as possible.
“As part of the process of moving into the building, we have undertaken an assessment to ensure facilities meet all workplace health and safety standards and as a result we are currently undertaking essential maintenance to ensure we can provide the best service for women and children.”
Ms O’Donnell said any women and children seeking help are being assisted by Mission’s “staff on-call 24/7” and “arrangements we have put in place ensure any women seeking assistance receive full support to find temporary or permanent accommodation and any other assistance required”.
To protect client privacy and safety Ms O’Donnell would not say to where women are being referred.
Bega social worker and Women’s Resource Centre manager Gabrielle Powell has written to the BDN to express to dismay and frustration at the situation.
Ms Powell said she attempted to get a desperate client into both the Bega and Moruya refuges with no success.
“I rang the women's refuge in Bega and the phone call went to message bank which stated that the service was only available in office hours Monday to Friday,” she said.
“I then tried the homeless line and I was put on hold for 20 minutes.
“I finally got through to someone who suggested I ring SEWACS in Bega and Eden.
“I had to inform her that this service was closed down and she said she didn't even know,” Ms Powell said.
Ms Powell echoed community criticism of the tender process for the NSW Government’s Going Home, Staying Home funding program, which has seen Mission Australia handed a women’s refuge it didn’t ask for.
“This is about inexperienced staff running a service that they have no previous experience in,” Ms Powell said.
“This is about a flawed tender process that is proving that women and children are unsafe and have nowhere to go.
“Women need to have access to women's refuges.”
Ms O’Donnell said Mission has contacted Ms Powell to “allay her concerns in relation to this client”.
She reiterated Mission is working towards having the Bega Women’s Refuge doors open.
“We are looking forward to having the building back in full operation as soon as possible and appreciate the community’s understanding and support as we go through this transition period,” Ms O’Donnell said.